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Sunday, February 25, 2007

The First Temptations of Christ

Luke 14:1-13 - Lent I
February 25, 2007
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ
(the Rev’d) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor


Not a surprising topic for the first Sunday in the Season of Lent. Those of us who have given up something for Lent (like wine, chocolate, or dessert), or taken on something, or a new discipline (exercise, reading, or a course of instruction) are already struggling with temptation – only five days into Lent.

And so it is that we read of the three temptations of Christ in the wilderness: to turn stone to bread, to worship false idols, and to turn the tables on temptation and tempt or test God.

We ought not be surprised by these three temptations of Christ. However, his is not like being tempted by chocolate or skipping time in the gym. Neither are they particulaly extraordinary, if you think about them. Indeed, I believe that these are three very common temptations in the enterprise of being human.

Let me explain.

I had a conversation a few weeks ago with a woman whose son is in the Army. He had enlisted several years ago and had completed one tour of duty in Iraq, where he was seriously injured and traumatized.

He spent several months recovering in a hospital in Germany and then was transferred to Walter Reed in Washington, D.C. and eventually made a full physical recovery. When the government offered him a substantial sum of money to reenlist, it also came with assurances that he wouldn’t go back to Iraq.

His mother was very suspicious of the offer, but very proud of her son.

Last week he was told that he would be deployed to Baghdad in April. He is beside himself with anxiety. His post traumatic stress syndrome is back in force. He’s been sent to a psychiatric hospital to make sure his claims are valid.

His mother is beside herself. There is absolutely nothing she can do for her son, and yet her anxiety about her son is now almost incapacitating. When she isn’t completely depressed, she schemes about things she might do to sabotage her son’s deployment to Iraq – including illegal measures.

She had fallen prey to the temptation to eat the bread of anxiety, changing that bread into the stone of incapacitation of her normal daily life.

Like Jesus, she has been tempted to deny reality.

Let me give you another example.

Perhaps you’ve been following this story. This past week has been a fairly traumatic one for The Episcopal Church. Some of the evangelical Global South Primates and a few of their North American counterparts are not at all pleased with The Episcopal Church’s response to the requests of The Windsor Report to repent of our actions to confirm the election of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.

They called for a complete moratorium on the election of any further LGBT bishops and one on the authorization of Rites of Blessing for same sex relationships.

At the beginning of their meeting at Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, the Windsor Report Sub-group, consisting of three conservative bishops and chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, the Primates heard that The Episcopal Church got a passing grade on our response. We satisfied the first two requests but got an incomplete on the third request.

That passing grade incensed some of the Global South Primates, who staged the equivalent of an ecclesiastical hissy fit. We saw the same bullying tactic used during General Convention which gave us the dreaded resolution B033. That resolution pleased neither Progressives nor Conservatives, but had bought us a passing grade by no less than the Archbishop of Canterbury.

So, some of the Primates pushed back. Hard. At the 11th hour. The Primates meeting was to have ended at 5:30 PM but ended instead at 10:30 PM with a Communiqué that was positively draconian in its demands for “full compliance” with what had been “recommendations” to a “process” of reconciliation.

The Primates – all 35 of them – had succumbed to the temptation to worship the sense of unity over their own integrity.

They have forgotten the Anglican heritage of “gracious accommodation” of holding two dramatically different beliefs – like the founding Anglican polarities of Protestant and Catholic belief – in tension. It would seem that there is to be no graciousness, much less any accommodation of Evangelical and Catholic beliefs in the Anglican Communion.

We have, like Jesus, been tempted to worship the false god of Unity, rather than the God who created the wondrous paradox of the diversity of humanity.

Finally: Yesterday, I had the privilege of co-presiding at the Civil Union of Maureen Killian and Cindy Meneghin at the Church of the Redeemer in Morristown. Yes, I know. According to the Windsor Report, I'm not being "compliant." That's okay. The Windsor Report is filled with recommendations - not requirements.

Some of you know that, five years ago, I was privileged to serve as Associate Rector there while I was also the Canon Missioner to The Oasis. Cindy and I were remembering, just before the service, that it was 14 years ago last week that we had gathered in that space to baptize Josh, their eldest son. Both of us thought that the idea that we would be in this same place, 14 years later, for this service of Civil Union seemed then like a distant, unattainable dream.

It was a surprisingly traditional service. Pretty much right out of the Prayer Book. As Phillip said in his sermon, these are two of the most delightful yet boring people he knows. One is a Computer Specialist for a University and the other is a Parish Administrator. They attend PTA meetings, live in a big old house that needs constant attention, serve the church in various capacities, help with homework, drive the kids to sports and other school events - well, you get the picture.

My favorite part of the service was when Maureen and Cindy came down the aisle, wheeling Maureen's 80-something year old (staunchly Roman Catholic) dad in his wheel chair, as he held their hands. Everyone spontaneously applauded. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

So, I'm standing there, watching all this happen and thinking, "And this is the deal breaker? This is what the present drama is all about in the Anglican Communion? THIS? Commitment? Love? Mutuality? Fidelity? Faithfulness? Monogamy? The Value of Families?"

I believe it’s simply a matter of time before Civil Unions become Marriage Equality –in the State of New Jersey, in this country, and around the Globe.

Indeed, I believe that the church should get out of the marriage business altogether. I believe our priests ought to be agents of God, not agents of the state. Whatever the state decides about Civil Union or Marriage, the priests of this church ought to continue to be allowed to pronounce God’s blessing on that which is good and noble, excellent and holy.

Judging by the number of young people in the more than 300 people in attendance in the congregation - many of whom were Josh and Sara's class mates and neighbors - I think honesty and integrity about what we are doing is not far from our grasp.

Twenty years from now we're going to look back on this time and have two reactions. First, we'll scratch our heads and ask, "What was all that drama about, anyway?" And then we'll shake our heads and say, "Shame on them!"

In another generation, many will have discovered then what we know now: that we have given into the temptation to play God and judge people and parceled out civil rights and liturgical rites on that basis.

Yes, we have provided for a civil right, but we have done so in a way that compromises the fullness of the dignity of every human being. It’s like the Jim Crow Laws of Segregation. Separate is rarely equal. Eventually, those Jim Crow laws - like apartheid - were overturned.

It’s like inequality for women – in position and pay. We’re not completely free of it, but we continue to make significant gains. Indeed, one of the real triumphs of the Primates Conference in Dar es Salaam is that Our Katharine was not humiliated by not being allowed to attend. Neither was she "kicked out" of the meeting. Indeed, she was elected to the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates - having equal say in decision making with the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

I believe with all my heart that Civil Rights and Liturgical Rites of Blessing will be available for all of God’s children long before I finally take my leave of this earth. For now, we, like Jesus, have been tempted to control control the liberation which has been promised to ALL of God's children.

If you haven’t already noticed, I take Lent very seriously. So seriously that we have cut down parts of the service in order to take our time and be intentional about our worship together. There are lots of silences in this service – even the Exchange of Peace and the Announcements have been moved in order to create a more somber mood.

We all lead such busy, frenetic lives that I am hoping to create – at least once a week in our lives of faith – a place where we can take the time to find the depth of our souls. In this space, in your lives, I pray we can contemplate the four major spiritual issues of ‘Coming Out Christian’: our identity, our mortality, our intimacy and our vocation.

I want to create a space wherein we can examine for ourselves how it is that we, as very members incorporate in The Body of Christ, continue to be sorely tempted to sin – by denying reality, worshiping false idols, and controlling the inevitable.

The work of resisting these Three Temptations is quite serious. Jesus took forty days in forty nights in The Wilderness. I’m hoping we can take the forty days and forty nights of Lent in our homes and at work, as well as in our church and our lives of faith.

So, here are some question for you on the First Sunday in Lent:

How is it that you, like Jesus, are being tempted to deny reality?

How is it that you, like Jesus, are being seduced to create and worship false idols –and what are those false idols in your life?

How is it that you, like Jesus, are being enticed by playing God in your own life and in the lives of others?

These are the serious questions of Lent – for Jesus and for ourselves. I welcome you to this most holy work in this most holy season.



Grandmère Mimi said...

Simply amazing, Elizabeth. Oh, wouldn't I love to hear a sermon like this in my church. Did you really preach this? See how amazed I am that I have to ask the question.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Of course I did, Mimi. I'm in the Diocese of Newark, where anything can happen and everything usually does.

Bill said...

A truly great sermon and yes I was there and heard it. I almost expected it what with the blogs dripping venom all week. This good and loving couple have now been blessed in a wonderful ceremony. Who are these sanctimonious bishops who would deny this couple their right to pledge their love in front of God and family? I think that they have lost site of what love is all about. All they’re interested in is unity on their terms. There arguments lack merit and are not in sync with the love taught to us by our Lord. We need to continue to move forward and never give up.

I just got back from seeing the new movie “Amazing Grace” with a close friend. “Amazing Grace” is really an amazing movie. It centers on the Parliamentary struggles of William Wilberforce to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire. It didn’t come easy and the fight lasted well over 18 years. His first anti-slavery speech was made in 1789. His first bill to abolish the trade was put forth in 1791. Bills were introduced year after year and it wasn’t until 1807 that the bill was finally passed, ending the trade. He never lost faith and never gave up. The picture is truly inspirational.

This is the kind of struggle and perseverance that we must commit ourselves to in order to make sex and gender non-issues in the church. We have a world wide church that doesn’t know how to shut the bedroom door and get on with the business of a great church. People are dying every day of hunger and AIDS. People are dying from common ailments for which there have been drugs for years. Homeless children litter the streets of the third world. And what do our prelates do, they scheme and refuse to sit at the same table with our Presiding Bishop. Isn’t it time to put away childish things.

Grandmère Mimi said...

The Episcopal Church is truly diverse.